Sunday, June 03, 2007

Character Sketches of McCarthy
Don't Get Any Better Than This

'McCarthy built his image as a farmboy and ex-Marine, a straight-shooter and plain-talker. America's brawler. 'You would,' observed Alice Roosevelt Longworth, 'be glad to have someone like Joe McCarthy on your side if you wee in a big row or a street fight. I think he'd throw paving stones very well-0awful things.' As a political property, McCarthy was self-made--self-invented, really--with somethign of the appeal of the compassionate charlatan, the type who bluffed you out and then let you in on the con. He could be funny--irreverant, iconoclastic--and, when you expected it least, generous and forgiving. In rigidly stratified Washington, he always kept treats in his pockets for the community's mutts--ex-FBI types, newspapermen and aides on the rise. Because he was a fraud and he knew it--relished it, capitalized on it, inflated it until it became his style. Challenged, he counterattacked, bullied drowned every studied refutation in a dense spray of countercharges. As a personal tactic, this worked for awhile, but as a strategy it was imbecilic. It destroyed him early, and undoubtedly he knew it would.'
--from an absorbing new book by journalist and historian Burton Hersh, Bobby and J. Edgar--The Historic Face-Off Between the Kennedys and J. Edgar Hoover. Among the book's other virtues, it contains one of the best comprehensive treatments I've ever encountered of how family patriarch Joe Kennedy really accumulated his fortune, as well as a hilarious account of how the uncoordinated, non-swimming McCarthy fared poorly when invited to mingle with the Kennedy's at Hyanisport. According to the author, he briefly dated JFK's sister Eunice, who thought of him as an amusing form of "junk food after the Kennedy's restrictive diet."


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